Way back when, President Trump stirred a maelstrom when he called the mainstream media the “enemy of the people.” Although “anything Trump” immediately generates intense feelings on all sides, essentially ending much reasoned discussion and informed reciprocal debate, it is worthwhile considering that we need accurate media for a more wholesome society. Mass media can be a profoundly important bolster to a better world. The media have the power to root out and expose corruption by the powerful, to inform the public about real dangers, and to protect from tyranny.
However, when mass media promote falsehoods, they not only misinform but — if the matter is important enough — they can endanger society. They even can murder people. In the 1920s and 1930s, the New York Times bureau chief in Russia and the Ukraine filed stories about how successfully Stalin was leading his nation. In fact, he was starving millions of Ukrainians to death, particularly from 1932–33, in a genocide that now is known as the Holodomor, literally the mass starvation. Some Western intellectuals, like George Bernard Shaw, refused to believe a communist government could be cruel. Therefore it fell upon the media to report the genocide. Walter Duranty, the Times reporter on the scene, instead filed lies. Those lies won him a Pulitzer Prize that has not been revoked to this day, not even in an era in which monuments of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln are toppled. Duranty pointedly denied the scope and extent of the famine, Stalin’s underlying intent, and he later further defended Stalin’s 1938 show trials. It is believed that Duranty’s false reporting persuaded America to grant recognition to Stalin’s government.
The Times published Duranty’s lies daily as “news” and made him their Moscow bureau chief for 14 years. As a result, the West was lulled, cheated of the truth, made unaware of the evil. So, yes, Walter Duranty and his publisher indeed were the enemy of the people. Likewise, the New York Times — and the other mainstream media who took their lead from them — by and large refused to report on the unfolding Nazi Holocaust of six million Jews. Between 1939 and 1945, the New York Times published more than 23,000 front-page stories. Of those, 11,500 were about World War II. Only 26 — in six years — were about the Holocaust. The Times was passively complicit.
A robust news media can save lives by exposing and revealing, while an inaccurate campaign can assist in the despoiling of a people. When media foist false narratives to sow social discord, or when they assist tyranny with falsehoods, they indeed are the enemy of the people — even if unintentionally.
Leaving all polemics aside, we experienced the impact of misreporting during the Ferguson episode when media widely reported that Michael Brown had been shot to death while begging and demonstratively signaling “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” That was seven years ago, August 2014, and that meme resonates to this day. Yet it was not true. Brown had wrestled police officer Darren Wilson in his police car for his gun, and two shots were discharged amid the fracas. Wilson knew that it was he who was fighting at that moment for his life. Not only did the Missouri grand jury refuse to indict the police officer after they were presented with truth and supporting evidence, but even the Obama–Holder Justice Department (DOJ), after investigating intensely, declined to intervene.
Nevertheless, a false narrative had entered the American imagination. The lie directly gave rise to “Black Lives Matter,” an organization that does not advocate for Black lives that are lost every night, especially over weekends, in cities like Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, and Minneapolis. Instead, the lie gave rise to a despicable hate organization, the Black Lives Matter racial hate group, built on mendacity, deep hate against Jews, and racist hatred for Caucasians but that now has graduate school websites and whole academic faculties devoted to it, such as at this once-prominent Catholic Jesuit-sponsored law school, now third tier and ranked at No. 72, and is invited into public schools to influence our young. Thus, because of misinformed reporting about Michael Brown, a thug in Ferguson who held up a convenience store and almost murdered a police officer on duty, there evolved a level of racial division and rancor that extended far beyond Greater St. Louis and has contributed horribly to severe rifts in our societal fabric.
It is against this backdrop that the media’s reportage of the Kyle Rittenhouse matter not only has left so much to be desired professionally but has caused so much more damage to American society.
First, a personal word. Much as I care about the world around me, much as I concede second place to no person in terms of the amount of time, energy, and money I devote to make my world and the people living in it a better place, I would not have gone to Kenosha that night. It was a mess, and that is what police are there for. Storeowners absolutely have an unequivocal right — even an imperative — to guard their property with firearms ready. Volunteers who stand at the side of those entrepreneurs, whose entire lives and life savings are invested in those properties, are heroic. But that night loomed as a form of trouble that augured nothing good.
Still, Rittenhouse was not an “outsider” who “crossed state lines with a rifle” from Illinois to seek mayhem in Wisconsin. Rather, his AR-15 was housed properly in a safe in Kenosha. It was so legal for him to possess that gun in Wisconsin that the court dismissed prosecution charges on that matter. As Melissa Mackenzie has written at The American Spectator: “Kenosha is about five minutes from the Illinois border. It’s two hours to Chicago or Madison and 45 minutes to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Like [the adjoining states of] New York and New Jersey, lots of people who work in Wisconsin live in Illinois and vice versa. Kyle Rittenhouse was one of those people. His divorced parents lived within 30 minutes of one another — his mom in Antioch, Illinois, his dad in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Kyle worked in Kenosha. He had friends and family in Kenosha. His situation is not at all unusual.”
Kyle Rittenhouse came to that scene to help and protect. He is an older teenager and, to my mind, a bit of a fool. Yet, truth be told: sometimes fools must enter when “wiser men” won’t. To the degree that he foresaw that local Kenosha police would lose control of the night, he is a hero. He had a right to his weapon. He had done everything that his local government required of him to own it and to deploy it under proper circumstances. When circumstances completely spun out of control, he found himself in a position that few reporters ever have faced, not even those who have reported in war zones. He had a mad man charging at him, intent on grabbing his weapon and murdering him with it. We now know that is fact. He had a mad man with a firearm who pointed the weapon at his face and was as likely as not to shoot him to death. Perhaps — probably — no one reading this now ever has experienced that. It is the stuff of television and movies, and it invariably ends with the death of the person facing the weapon unless the scriptwriter instead has inserted a surprise development in which a third party, from out of nowhere, starts shooting from other points unexpected and saves the day. The latter prospect is whimsical, not realistic, as in Bad Santa, where police emerge from nowhere to start firing from all sides to save Billy Bob Thornton as he is about to be shot to death by his long-time elf accomplice.
There are no second chances in real life for the victim, no do-overs, when one is shot to death. No “I shoulda pulled the trigger when I still had the chance.” People with firearms have the right and duty to protect their own lives, even at the expense of the attacker. That is why so many languages have two separate words to distinguish the permitted “killing” from the forbidden “murder.” (In Hebrew, harigah contrasted from r’tzichah.) Some languages even have a word like “manslaughter” to distinguish nuances.
From the outset of the Rittenhouse coverage, the media narrative portrayed him as a White Supremacist, a member of an organized vigilante group, intent on killing Black people in Kenosha. If you remember Nick Sandmann of Covington High School in northeast Kentucky, it was another feeding frenzy where media had a story to tell, and they simply were not going to allow facts to get in the way. Maybe that is what Kellyanne Conway was trying to say when she spoke of “alternative facts.” Of course facts have no alternatives, and, as Ben Shapiro famously has said, “facts don’t care about your feelings.” But in the rush to report false information as if verified and authenticated “facts,” media actually generate alternative “facts” that, when ultimately proven false, nevertheless retain a place in the collective conscience of a society that cannot delete them later from memory. So the lie of “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” takes its place in American history lore alongside Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” and Nathan Hale’s “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”
Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Squad member of Massachusetts, said, “A 17-year-old white supremacist domestic terrorist drove across state lines, armed with an AR 15. He shot and killed 2 people who had assembled to affirm the value, dignity, and worth of Black lives.” But that is not what happened. Rep. Ilhan Omar, Squad member of Minnesota: “A domestic terrorist executed two people.” Outright lie. Ocasio: “Does anyone believe Rittenhouse would be released [on bail, as he was] if he were Muslim & did the same thing in a diff context? For people who say ‘systemic racism doesn’t exist,’ this is what it looks like: protection of white supremacy baked deep into our carceral systems. Law and disorder.” Not true.
In the end, our system of justice still demands a court of law at which a trial beyond the verdict of the mass media and the Squad is conducted under classic rules of evidence. Testimony must be sworn. It must be offered inside a courtroom in front of a fact-finder — be it judge or empaneled jury of peers. Testimony cannot come in secondhand from outside the courtroom; rather, it must be spoken while directly confronting and in the presence of the accused. It must be clear and firsthand certain testimony, not suppositions, inferences, speculations, or assumptions. It may be subjected to withering cross-examination. Friendly witnesses may not be led. Adverse witnesses may not be harassed or badgered. Vagueness and ambiguity do not suffice. The courtroom ultimately is where justice has its best chance to prevail, though — as with any human institution — it, too, can fail and sometimes does, as it did for Nicole Brown Simpson.
Here, with Rittenhouse — remembering Walter Duranty in Stalinist Ukraine, six million under Hitler and Goebbels and Eichmann, Michael Brown of Ferguson, Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman of Florida, Nick Sandmann of Covington, and so many other situations in which a mix of innocently misinformed reporting, deliberate falsification to present alternative facts, and intentional propagation of a false narrative to achieve a socially incendiary purpose all synergized to destroy lives and infect a society with a terrible illness rooted in racial division and race hate, let us look back on the alternative facts that the mass media propagated regarding Kyle Rittenhouse:
It would be elegant if media were to rush forward and apologize. Rittenhouse may well be acquitted — as all evidence indicates he should be — and the country will awake the next morning to a debate: Does Rittenhouse’s acquittal prove that “truth, justice, and the American way” ultimately is more than a 1950s TV meme — or does such an acquittal validate the lie that America is permeated with “Systemic Racism”? We have seen Officer Derek Chauvin convicted on all charges and sentenced to 22.5 years for the murder of George Floyd. Nothing more manifestly disproves — crushes — the lie of “systemic racism.” But Rittenhouse’s acquittal, or a hung jury, will reignite the debate.
If media reportage were accurate and fair from Day One, the facts — the only universe of real facts — would speak for themselves. This happened when a Black judge threw out all charges against several Baltimore police officers wrongly charged in Freddie Gray’s death. Likewise, a jury acquitted George Zimmerman of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in the death of Trayvon Martin. The Obama DOJ then investigated Zimmerman for three years on civil rights charges, finally concluding in 2015 that there was insufficient evidence that Zimmerman intentionally violated Martin’s civil rights. It happened with that Ferguson grand jury, Officer Darren Wilson, and Michael Brown. The truth came out in time for Nick Sandmann. The truth likewise now is emerging, with new revelations from the Durham investigation into the Steele dossier and the roles played by Hillary Clinton, her campaign, the Perkins Coie law firm, and Fusion GPS.
When MSNBC anchors and guests, even after undisputed facts emerged in a courtroom under oath, continued propagating lies and incendiary myths about “Systemic Racism” — even calling the trial a “sham” and urging jury nullification — they not only manifested deep personal character failures rooted in pathological lying. They did something much worse because they are vested by a TV station with the semblance of legitimacy: they unnecessarily used their microphones to tear our country apart at the seams. They are the enemies of the people.